Sunday, April 13, 2014

Big Data: Reconfiguring and Empowering the Human-Data Relation

A strong new presence in contemporary life is big data (the collection and use of personal data by large institutions). As individuals, we can feel powerless in our relation with data.

At present, the human-data relation is one of fear, distance, powerlessness, lack of recourse, and diminished agency. There is an asymmetry of touch in the human-data relation where data can see and touch us without our noticing or being able to touch back. What is missing from the human-data relation is the capacity for humans to touch data in a meaningful way. The asymmetry of touch leads to an incomplete subjectivation of both the human and the data: big data creates a false composite in trying to model and understand the whole individual from just a few electronically-traceable activities, while humans have almost no sight or conceptualization of the entity that is big data.

There are at least two ways to humanize and improve the human-data relation. One is reconceptualizing subjectivation and personal identity as a malleable and dynamic association of elements and capacities, and the other is reconfiguring the power relation between humans and data. To balance the power relation so that humans are more empowered, non-profit institutions, watchdog organizations, and community groups could be created for the defense of personal data, and privacy could be overhauled as a practical impossibility and recast into a system of access rights and responsibilities conferred upon the data.

Presentation: The Philosophy of Big Data
Video (in French): La reconfiguration de la relation humaine-données par le toucher

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